By Jose Leandro Garbey Castillo (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – It’s the Havana World Music festival (May 19-21) on the Ciudad Deportiva. It’s my first Carlos Varela concert after so a few years of waiting.
It’s about to show midnight and also you barely see anything just thirty meters away from the stage. Lights. Plenty of drinks. Nearby, two girls take a selfie to upload to their Instagram stories. Two lovers kiss one another energetically to the beat of the music. Just a few people buy beer. Rather a lot. Right behind my seat, three 30-year-olds, two girls and a man, sing. The song Siete plays. They cry.
Those of us present could all tell a story of a family divided by politics, the story of a friend or a frustrated lover that’s heading for the US’ southern border. A story of censorship, of intolerance or not very much hope. It’s Carlos Varela’s Cuba, my Cuba, the Cuba of a lot of those present, mostly young people.
Varela connects his music to many generations of Cubans, like only a few artists know the way to do. Possibly that’s due to rattling paradox that his generation’s problems at the moment are our own. Possibly even worse. It’s the sensation of continuity. The truth of a rustic that’s drifting within the ebb and flow of a political game where we’re nothing greater than pawns. The sentiment of generations who’ve suffered the implications of intolerance on each side of this cemetery that’s the Florida Strait. Bitterness that has been sown.
Our inheritance. This burden that we’re forced to hold on our shoulders, perhaps even looking like we’re willing to hold it, but we don’t wish to. Not less than we don’t. Much less so today.
His latest song, La feria de los tontos, triggers euphoria amongst those present. A lady moves her lips along to the unbridled chanting of those round her. She doesn’t know the words. She probably hasn’t ever listened to the music of a singer who has been singing concerning the same thing for over thirty years: an island and its demons.
“They made us all crazy, hoping for a dream, a broken dream!” They sing. She likes it. She smiles.
Based on many individuals present, because the song played on, the police began to crowd across the platform. Minutes later, just just a few meters from where we were standing, someone shouted “libertad” (freedom). A whole bunch followed. The general public within the Ciudad Deportiva did. Others clapped. The police remained stunned, shocked. Such a display of insubordination is out of their hands. A small act of rebel. Cries in a mute city. Deeply spontaneous, temporarily free.
In today’s Cuba, libertad is a demonized word; perhaps essentially the most prostituted and manipulated word. It’s a term that’s in a position to provoke an almost obsessive and irrational fear in certain minds. How could they not be afraid of the cry of lots of of young individuals who, at a concert, with alcohol running through their veins, are in a position to speak about freedom?
They didn’t see it coming. They were afraid. I’m sure. You might sense it. They didn’t cordon off the space between the steps and stage for no reason. Greater police presence outside after we left wasn’t for no reason either. Tension.
Probably for several years, the general public present won’t find a way to go to a different Carlos Varela concert in Havana. Emigration is a cancer that spreads and eats away and bleeds the country dry. Cuba is a frail country that you just only visit annually to see your elderly parents. My friends also want to go away. They like “to be forgotten before being taken for a idiot.” We’re one other generation of woodcutters and not using a forest.